GOCHUJANG TUNA-MELT ONIGIRI

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ONIGIRI COULD BE NONE BUT A BALL OF RICE, UNTIL YOU’VE HAD A REAL ONIGIRI AND REALIZED WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT…

A BALL OF REALLY GOOD RICE

The weather in Beijing is driving me mad.  Rainy, swampy, relentlessly brownish grey.  In all the fond days that I’ve been in this dump, all five years and counting, the summers have never been this wet.  Soaking wet.  I mean let’s face it, nothing here is pleasant to begin with I’ll give you that.  But for this region, a supposedly semi-desert climate for fuck sake, that for what it’s worth, the relatively dry summers and butt-cracks used to contribute as the pitiful silver-lining of being in this hell-hole.  The cherry on a very bad cake.  But lately, no.  Not this summer.  Every morning begins with a slow poach inside a thick tarred and slimy cloud of grossness – think the colons of Jabba the Hutt or inside Donald Trump’s comb-over under a baseball cap – then, comes the almost guaranteed torrential rains around 7 pm that marinates everything in a wet mop-like humidity.  Then the next day, it repeats.  Did I mention that the pollution congeals even more enthusiastically in its special sense of sarcasm?  Did I mention that it’s been like this, for weeks.

It’s an understatement to say that these days, I’m not happy much.  All the recent riots of Instagrams flaunting farmer’s markets, elf-like human beings and basic living bliss, only make me bleed jealousy and really hateful thoughts.  If I could stab your heirloom tomato in the abdomen right now, I’d gladly do so with gruesome gratifications and throw in all its cousins for good measure.  It’s also safe to say that these days, I don’t go out much.  The joy of grocery-runs has been reduced down a battle of mind-dragging chores, not to mention, that at any given seconds, the heaven could punish me with an acid-fueled downpour for daring optimistic thoughts.   These days, I made do with what I have.

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Which brings us to this, onigiri, Japanese rice balls.

Truth is, I’ve been wanting to do another onigiri, one of the simplest joy of Asian foods, since the very first week of this bad-joke weather.  But I worry.  Thing is, it’s always tricky to explain something with such a blunt construct, where the appeal of it all relies almost entirely on the quality of the main simple ingredient – rice.  You could have walked through this life eating and thinking that onigiri is none but a ball of rice, big deal, until you’ve had a real onigiri and realized what it’s actually about – a ball of really good rice.  It makes.  All the difference.  I’ve done an onigiri post in the past, actually, using a rice-cooker without considering that to most, it was an exotic and unnecessary kitchen-gadget.  But how to cook rice without one?  I had no idea.  So this time, it became inevitable to me that before I demonstrate on squeezing rice into a tight ball in front of a perplexed audience, I should at least learn how to cook it right with basic instruments.

Then once you’ve gotten that down, the possibility of onigiri is only limited by your imaginations, or okay, maybe weather, too.

Limited, I said, as in confined within the extend of my (and probably yours) existing pantry, but nonetheless, as nurturing and delicious as any origiri should be.  Canned tuna, you have those don’t you, the responsible ones?  American cheddar cheese, practically as essential as underpants.  Gochujang/Korean chili paste, if not a must in your kitchen then it should be, but if really not, which I feel slightly sorry for, then Sriracha could do, too.  Then nori sheets, practically keeps forever.  A few easy stress-reducing squeezes and a kiss under the broiler, here you’ll have, the perfect summer food.  Portable, versatile, heatwave-resistant not to mention exceedingly adorable looking.  I think it’s almost a crime not to bring them to your next backyard party, Central Park picnic, or your weekend getaway in Montauk, or an elf-like afternoon delight by the Seine…  Not that I could do any of those things here, especially these days, you know, but you can surely go right ahead.  Just don’t show them to me on IG, ok?  I bleed.

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GOCHUJANG TUNA-MELT ONIGIRI

Unless being locusts is a personal motivation of yours, choose sustainable tuna such as: Albacore tuna from Hawaii, South/North/East Pacific, North Atlantic, US Atlantic, Japan/Canada North Pacific. Tongol tuna worldwide. Skipjack and bigeye tuna from Hawaii Eastern Central Pacific, US North Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Western Central Pacific.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups freshly cooked (not day-old) good-quality Asian short-grain rice, this one is a safe bet
  • 2~4 sheets Japanese nori/seaweed
  • A few pinches of white sesame seeds
  • GOCHUJANG TUNA-MELT FILLING:
  • 1 small can of tuna-in-olive-oil (150 grams after drained)
  • 1 tbsp (16 grams) kewpie mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (40 grams) Korean gochujang/chili paste
  • 3/4 tsp toasted sesame oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1/2 tsp tabasco sauce
  • 1/3 tsp grated ginger
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices American cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Cook the rice according to your rice-cooker's instruction, or do it on the stove this way. Wait for the rice to cool enough to handle (covered with lid the hole time to prevent drying out).
  2. Meanwhile, drain ay excess liquid/oil from the tuna (save the oil! it's terrific for salad dressing), then with a fork, crumble/mix it evenly with kewpie mayonnaise, gochujang chili paste, toasted sesame oil, tabasco sauce, grated ginger and ground black pepper. Set aside.
  3. If you have onigiri-molds, or prefer to make them with a biscuit cutter-mold, do it. Otherwise, once the rice has cooled, prepare a bowl of water on the side and wet your hands thoroughly (prevents rice from sticking to your hands). Grab about 1/4 cup of cooked rice, then flatten it in your palm. Place 3/4 slice of American cheddar cheese and about 2 tsp of tuna-filling in the centre, then top it with another pile of rice. Wet your hands again, then squeeze the entire thing tightly into a ball . I find it easiest to squeeze tightly, hold for a few seconds for the rice to bond, then turn and squeeze again. Due to the over-stuffing nature of this onigiri (traditional onigiri probably only has 1/3 of the amount of filling), you may have to patch where the filings are exposing with extra nubs of rice. Once you have a tightly packed rice ball, set aside, then repeat until you've used up all the rice. You should have around 5~6 rice balls, and probably extra fillings left.
  4. You don't have to toast the onigiri, but in this case, I thought the specks of toasted sesame seeds look nice, so the choice is yours. Preheat the broiler on high. Sprinkle a pinch of white sesame seeds on the top of each onigiri, and place on a baking-sheet. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 10 min until the tops are slightly browned.
  5. If your nori sheets are slightly stale, simply swipe it over low flames for a few time and they should crisp up reliably. Now, for photography purposes, I used a smaller nori-sheet to wrap the onigiri so the rice is exposed. But typically, I like to encase the entire ball in nori-sheet. You can do it however you like. I also brush the surface lightly with toasted sesame oil for a nice sheen. Onigiri is best eaten within a few hours it's made.
http://ladyandpups.com/2015/08/07/gochujang-tuna-melt-onigiri/
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27 Comments

  • Haha!! Mandy, they actually sell these exact creations in Korean convenience stores! Great minds…right???

  • So sorry the weather is such a drag, Mandy. Though it’s pretty neat how you made lemonade from lemons–or in this case–beautiful onigiri with pantry staples. Looking forward to a warm and cozy recipe on hand for Boston’s cold and snowy winters!

  • Hey, awesome photography and writing.
    I’m definitely planning on making these for lunch!
    Do you know how long they keep fresh in airtight containers?

  • Hi there! I’ve followed your site for probably about a year now and I love everything about it – the wonderful cynicism, the recipes, and of course the amazing photos. Somehow I never managed to notice the “little” detail that you live in Beijing – my husband and I have lived in rural China for this last year and just moved to Shanghai. Unfortunately we moved here in the middle of a “heat wave”, also known as deathly heat and radiation. It’s been fantastic for my über pale skin – or not. Now I have resorted to not leaving the house but to run across the street for veggies. So I commiserate with you on the weather. Different weather, but annoying weather. Anyways, these look ridiculously good and the husband will love them! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Very very beautiful Onigiri. This is one of my favorite things in the world. I ate at least one a day when I went to Japan. I´ll try your recipe and let you know. Well done friends!!

  • Crappy weather notwithstanding (booooo!) these onigiri are just spectacular, Mandy! Gochujang, tuna, cheese, rice — all of my favorite things. Pure beauty. Hope Beijing gets its act together soon (I totally agree, the dry weather is the one silver lining!)

  • this is the tuna melt situation that’s going to make me want to eat a tuna melt. i’ve always been grossed out by them because my friend rob is *actually* known for his gross farts after eating tuna melts. we all know to distance ourselves when we see him eating one. but enough of that! if there’s one thing that can make me want to eat one, it’s a tuna melt in onigiri form. i love how these are so nice and spherical!!

  • Hey- sympathies on the swamp weather, my own personal conception of hell. Adding insult to injury, you have to do more laundry which in itself is a disgusting sweaty endeavour.

    Thanks for this recipe- going to a party tomorrow and needed something cool but from pantry items- Bingo!

    2x thanks- Digging all your Korean inflected recipes, they’re tieing in nicely with my recent K-drama binge viewing.

      • Hey, these came out fantastically for the bbq I went to- followed your directions on stove top sushi rice and perfecto! I used to work in a place where we baked the sushi rice for Cali rolls in a 350F oven, but no way was I turning on the oven for 40 min in 90F heat!
        So, many thanks :)

  • The first two paragraphs were literary gold between the dry buttcracks, Donald Trump reference, the word ‘congeals’ and heirloom tomato abdomens.

    I love your writing but its particularly on point when you are on a rant. I essentially want to poke with a stick until you write more angry, beautiful things. Haha.

  • Your spicy version of a tuna melt onigiri is so interesting and looks super yummy. I will have to try it. I’ve been having “plain” tuna and mayo onigiris since 1967! Way before they became a staple in 7/11 and other “conbini” and fast food shops in Japan. ….And,….. here is a “secret dish” that we used to eat then as well during New Years: all of us girls, Nisei Japanese and new comers like me, would cook/grill mochi until it was soft and gooey and then top it off with mayonnaise and tuna. We’d wrap the whole thing in nori and gobble it down. Boy that was good! We had to keep it a secret because the Japanese around us would be scandalized that we mixed mayonnaise, tuna and Mochi all in the same dish!
    Give it a try. You’ll love its simplicity!

  • You are killing me, I am testing recipes for turkish website…you send me into a tizzy…not fair…distractions

    Moi

  • Could you replace the tuna with crab meat? Or would you need to switch the cheese out for something else also if you did?

    • Jessica, wooohhh crab meat! Yeah sure why not!!! I would totally keep the cheese. There’s a New Orlean’s crab gratin that bakes crab meat under American cheese and it’s supposedly divine….

  • When rice is made all pearl-like and perrrrfect like this, I would not hesitate to attack this. Would love to try my hand at both the tuna melt and the crab meat.

  • Your writing is perfect. And this recipe looks so amazing. I am sorry the weather is far from ideal – but take comfort in knowing that the plethora of farmers market instagramers are driving us all insane. Stab all the tomatoes.

  • Hubba hubba hubbaaaaaaaa I seriously drool at the sight of this gloriousness. It is so beautiful, and that sounds kind of sad when talking about a ball of rice, but it is beautiful. And I always wondered why you dislike Beijing so much, but I think your explanation sort of answers my question haha. Hope you have a blessed rest of the week, Mandy~

  • Oh my gosh, dear Mandy – you are killing me with this recipe! That looks so delicious. I really have to make them! I love onigiri anyway, especially in the summer. Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe. You are my hero for today! ;-)
    Ylva (… off on her way to buy tuna!)

    • Made them, ate them, absolutely love them! And “Mr. Zuckerwatte” is crazy for them, too. Thank you so much again – these little balls of heaven are a new favourite! :)

  • I tried this today, completely loved it!!! I discovered your website some months ago and tried some recipes but it is the first time I comment! Lovely blog!!!

  • Those were truly handsome until I broiled it (rather baked? Cause my oven doesn’t have any broiler). They felt apart a bit yet still were really delicious. I think I will give up with broiling next time.
    P.s. I switched tabasco for sriracha. Was suprised I don’t have even a drop of tabasco, but proud that I have the rest of ingredients in my pantry ⌒.⌒ Love it (both my pantry and the recipe).

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